in loving memory: Paul Noble



postcard youngpaulandisabel

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recentpaul My Grandpa, Paul Noble, passed away last month.

He was 91 years old. His dear wife Isabel had passed on five years before and at the time we all expected he would be right after her. But, he wasn’t. He moved in with his daughter, my aunt Anne, and lived another five good years, watching Jeopardy and sports games, watching the birds on the patio outside his bedroom, making his own meals, and being, as always, such a gentleman.

My Grandpa was one of my biggest fans. Well, both he and my grandmother, really. They were a team, I remember them as one in-sync unit. My memories of them are such good ones – of talking to them in the States on the (rotary) phone when I was a kid, of hearing their voices sing me “Happy Birthday” every year. Going to visit them in North Carolina, where they were summering, when I was ten, with my Dad. The smell of his pipe, which he’d sit out on the patio and smoke. I remember that my Grandpa was always so interested in what I was up to. He always told me I was brilliant and beautiful. He had a gravelly voice and spoke clearly and slow, measured. “Now tell me,” he’d say. One time when I went to visit, I think I was 19 and had just been living in BC, he said, “I’ve prepared a list of topics I’d like to cover with you while you’re here. Number one…” He loved to discuss and to debate, but never showed disrespect. Ideas were one thing, but love was another.

This weekend I’ll be in New Jersey, gathering together with family, and in ways both large and small, saying goodbye to my Grandpa.

It’s strange but I haven’t actually cried very much, about Grandpa passing. I feel at peace with it, for the most part. Although, who knows what it will be like when I am there in the actual place where he lived, and he’s not there. I’m bracing myself for lots of emotion. But, I think a lot of it will be positive emotion. Hugs, and love, and respect for one another. What Grandpa taught us.

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to make it work


I often think of this quote from Cora-Lee’s interview here on this blog, especially now as I am starting a small business. (I mean, it’s just the postcards for now, but still, that’s a business.) So I decided to write it down and tack it to my bulletin board.

I think it relates to what Elise says here about “just starting“. So many dreams and ideas get tucked aside because we are afraid. We are scared of failing, of trying it and fucking it up. So we tuck it aside, saying “well I just don’t have the money,” or “I just don’t have the time,” instead of saying “what do I need to make this work? is it string, or duct tape, or a corner of a room?” And then just getting it done.

Oh and hey! It’s August! Where did that come from?


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a beautiful mess photo app






Back in February I got rid of Instagram on my phone. I was in a mood for a few months there where I just didn’t want much social media or much to do with my iPhone. I felt like I was sharing too much of my life with ‘the world’ and it weirded me out.

But I just got back on it, the other day. I felt like that phase, while necessary, was over, and I feel like I’ve got enough balance restored (whatever that means and however that’s measured) to be able to feel like I’ve got boundaries.

And, while I was at it, getting all Instagramy again, I bought the Beautiful Mess photo app for 99 cents. And it’s the best 99 cents I’ve spent in a while!

(Well, OK, best 10$. Because I went ahead and bought all the extra packs that come with it, like extra doodles and fonts and stuff.)


(That shot above is of me using the app.)

I love that it’s super easy to use. (So much easier than opening a photo in Photoshop, using the tablet to draw on it, fiddle with colours, etc!) I love that I feel like I’m making photos that could be on A Beautiful Mess (which is a blog that I find majorly inspiring, both in the stuff they post and in the way the two women who run it have made their small business a major success).

I find that the quirky doodles and sayings, funky hip-looking borders and colours take regular life and take it up a notch. In the same way as scrapbooking or making an album does.

This is a post on the Beautiful Mess blog about their photo app and the neat creations users are making.

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june’s wedding

Fourpics1 Fourpics2 I said before how I love weddings.

And, I do.

(No pun intended!)

Everyone all dressed up, love is the center of the day. I love the ceremony of it all.

Going to weddings makes me think about having my own wedding. (Uh oh, don’t tell Adam!) But seriously, and he knows this, I do want one, some day. Nothing major, nothing huge, but something special, something out-of-the-ordinary, something to celebrate us. (He says, “We’ll see.”)

Anyway, I’ll get off that train of thought, otherwise before I know it I’ll be on Pinterest, pinning wedding ideas to a secret board and thinking about what song we should dance to for our first dance!

(Cuz, uhhh, I’m not doing that already. Right.)

The point of this post is, June and Josh had a lovely wedding, and I had a good time there.

I’ve known June since Grade 9, when we were fourteen years old. We met when I left Baddeck Academy and went to Sydney Mines Junior High to take French Immersion (and to get away from the dismal social life I had in Baddeck, which is another way of saying I was bullied). She’s cheery and down to earth and we became fast friends, sharing a group of friends through high school. After high school we went off on our separate adventures but sometimes when I’d eat at the Canton Restaurant in North Sydney (which her parents own and where she’s always worked part or full time), I’d run into her and we’d catch each other up on what we were up to, saying “We should get together sometime!” and always being too busy to really do that.

Then last year I moved to North Sydney! And I wanted to make sure I didn’t get lonely there, and that I had some stuff I was doing outside of school and the house, so I made an effort to see June. That meant going to the Phoenix Nightclub and Noodle Bar, which her family had just bought and opened up, and which June was running, and hanging out with her while she worked. And a couple of times we got a few other girlfriends to come over and the restaurant was quiet and we had some great laughs and delicious bowls of noodles.

Fast forward to this past week: June got married in the nightclub! And then dinner was at the Canton, and then back to the nightclub (just down the street) for the dance.

It was fun. And it was good to see old friends. (That selfie is of me and my friend Stacy, who is becoming a medical doctor, and with whom I went swimming last year at Kennington Cove.)

Life’s good these days. Lots of laughs, lots of love.

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Q+A with Bill Conall

Promised Land cover

I first met Bill about five years ago when I decided I wanted to have a writers’ group in Baddeck. I had put up ads around town, including in the credit union, the library and the laundromat. Not long after I did so, I got an email from someone named Bill Conall, stating simply, “I am a writer and I have a clean shirt.” I remember it took me a day or two to make the connection. “Ohhhh, he must have seen the sign at the laundromat!”

Since then, and up until just this past year when I left the writers’ group, Bill and I have been in a writers’ group together, and it has been one of the best experiences for me, as a writer. I’ve learned so much from Bill. He’s wise and knowing, he is quiet, and looks at you with a twinkle in his eye and he waits. He waits for conversations to pace themselves, for information to find its rhythm. He laughs easily. He’s lived a long and varied life, from Ontario to BC to Cape Breton, driving long-haul trucks, among other interesting occupations.

And from his natural observant, patient nature comes a gift, that of story-telling. I’ve had the luck to hear him read aloud his stories and long poems, and it brings a whole different dimension to the writing. If you have the chance to hear Bill Conall read or recite, jump at it.

In any case, Bill is the kind of master of a craft who makes it look so easy, even simple. I imagine him like an old farmer who knows his horses so well and can guide them with just a motion, so for an outsider watching, it looks easy. But that kind of simplicity takes years of practice and work, which Bill puts in – he’s so committed to his craft. When I was in the writers’ groups with him, he would show up month after month with his work done, his notes on other people’s stories made, and discuss words, sentences, plots and ideas for hours. And he works diligently on his own writing, polishing and turning the stories again and again. It is clear that Bill Conall is in love with words, with stories, and after reading “The Promised Land,” his second novel, with Cape Breton Island.

(I remember reading early drafts of the stories in this book, before he had even found a publisher, and getting so excited, telling Bill, “I can’t wait til this is published and I can write about it on my blog!!”)

And so, it is with great pride that I present to you a Q+A with my friend, the author, Bill Conall.

(Buy The Promised Land here. Review in the Chronicle Herald here.)

When you first moved to Cape Breton, what excited you about this place? What were the things that caught your attention right away? What took time to win you over?

I was excited to be moving to where I could be closer to the land. Not goats and chickens and horse-drawn impliments, – I’m not that ambitious – but a vegetable garden, firewood, well water, wild blueberries and strawberries. The mackerel and mussels were a bonus.

We moved here on a rainy May Monday in 2007, backed the truck across the muddy yard to the house, hauled out the mattress and went to sleep. In the morning, Rosemary went to Sydney to buy a fridge. I stood on the deck looking into the box of a five-ton truck, packed to the top with everything we owned. It was a lonely, daunting moment.

But only a moment. The next sound I heard was a vehicle coming up the driveway. Our real estate agent’s husband, a lobsterman (among other things) drove into the yard with his daughter and his deck hand. “Would you like some help with that?” he asked. In just over an hour, the truck was empty. They shook hands, declined the offer of payment and drove off. Welcome to Cape Breton.

As to the last part of your question, ‘What took time to win you over?’ I can’t think of anything. I’m about as won over as I’m going to get.

Wood Pile 2

Author Bill Conall and his mighty woodpile.

Tell me about the interviews you did to prepare for the book. You mention some of them in your acknowledgements. How important were the interviews for your story?

The interviews were critical. Facts are easy to find in books or on the net, but to get a proper handle on feelings requires a live human in the equation. Facts are important, but the tone of the telling can carry even more information. A person who might be tongue-tied on paper can be eloquent with a few words and inflection. Also, a live interview provides a speaking cadence that can only be inferred in print. For example, the reading of ‘Who’s your father?’ Anyone who has spent time on the North Shore reads that phrase differently from the rest of the world.

Some interviews were undertaken specifically to prepare for the book, but many were the result of a project operated by the North Shore Gaelic Heritage Society in the summer of 2010. We collected nearly fifty hours of interviews with people ranging in age from early twenties to mid-nineties. There were people who had spent their whole life on the North Shore, people from Away, some who had gone and come back, a woman from Boston who had come up here to Granny’s farm every summer of her seventy years. I conducted some of the interviews, operated the camera for others, and did all the editing, so I was able to spend a lot of time with those people, hearing not only their stories, but also the way they told them.

There is a wake at home in the book. I wondered if this still happens in modern Cape Breton? Talk a bit about this scene, if you would.

Yes. I know of at least two in the short time I’ve been here. It used to be that all wakes were conducted at home; there were no undertakers in this part of the world until the 1950’s. The difference I noticed in my limited experience of a home wake versus a ‘commercial’ wake is that the latter seemed to focus on the ending aspect of a death while the home wake felt more like a natural continuation of a life. There was still sadness at the absence of a friend, of course, but it seemed a shorter journey from loss to fond rememberances. I spent considerable time talking with Cassandra Yonder, who is a death midwife, and who is very involved in the resurgence of home funerals. What I learned from her helped change my perceptions of death and I wanted to make it part of the story.

The scene at the Hippies Ceilidh where Seamus and Kevin have an amicable fight – this has an unreal quality to it. Is it based on a true story?

It is based on a story that was told to me as true, and I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the teller. It apparently happened on the other side of the island. At a party, a woman asked her son, “Have you had your fight yet?” “No,” he replied. “Well,” she said, “Go start something. We have to go home soon.” With that as the kernel of the story, I expanded it by adding in some observations of my own on public fighting as a pastime rather than as a domination exercise or a conflict-resolution tool.

This story feels like a love letter to your newfound home. Why was it important to you to tell a story about newcomers and locals, about the hippies of the 1970s?

Part of the reason I wanted to tell this story is because I think there are a lot of urban dwellers who have no clear idea of what life is like in a small community. I grew up in a small town where I could walk in to any of twenty or thirty houses any time and be welcomed. Nobody ever lost their car keys because they were always left in the ignition.

There is a story that demonstrates small community for me. A friend in Ontario spun out on the 401 in Toronto, ending up against the concrete median facing oncoming traffic. It was two hours before an off-duty fireman stopped, flipped on his emergency light and diverted traffic so she could turn her car around and go home. By contrast, Rosemary’s car slipped into the ditch on the way to Baddeck one day. Every vehicle on the road stopped, incuding the school bus and the garbage truck. “Do you need help? Do you need a lift to Baddeck, back home? Can I call someone for you?” That’s the kind of place I want to live.

What would you say to someone, young or old, who likes to write and who wants to tell stories about their local community? What advice would you give them?

Do it. Don’t wait for the perfect moment or stall because you can’t find the inspiring language you think your story deserves. Realize that no matter how many people may have been involved in the story, no one else has your perspective, because nobody else is you. The facts are important, so do your best to capture them as accurately as you can, but the facts are not the whole story. Write about who you were at the beginning of a chapter and how you were different at the end; write about how you felt; write about the reactions of the people around you. Write about things that you may think don’t matter, but put them down anyway. Be an eyewitness first and an editor later.

And, in the spirit of “Dreaming big”, what are your big dreams for the island, or for yourself on the island?

I am not a member of the bigger/better/farther/faster fraternity. There will be change, of course, but my wish is that whatever changes come, we never lose sight of what makes this such a special community. I hope that we continue to care for each other; to stop and offer help if we see somebody in the ditch; that we never lose track of how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful place.

You can purchase “The Promised Land” here.

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This Q+A with Bill is part of an ongoing series of interviews with people associated with Cape Breton in some way – mostly young people, but not necessarily. The complete list of interviews is here.

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this side up





This morning I brought cards over to Smart Shop Place’s Artisans in the Attic. It’s a muggy and warm day, and the streets of downtown Sydney are full of people off the cruise ship that’s docked at the Cruise Pavilion. The woman at the desk, Elaine, said she’d be sending me an inventory sheet soon, but that she was too busy that morning with customers to put the cards out yet. So, they’ll be on sale there, but just not right yet. I’ll keep you posted.

As I got back in my car and navigated the traffic downtown to get back over to North Sydney, I was watching the crowds off the cruise ship, as they stood in groups looking at things like statues, maps, phones, buildings. It made me look around at Sydney as if I was a tourist too, and think about the town a bit differently. What we see when we’re a tourist brand new in a place is so different than how a resident who has lived there a long while sees it. I mean, you see the area right where you are, you don’t know about the grocery stores on the outskirts of town, or the other areas. You just don’t.

This afternoon I have a wedding to attend! I love weddings. I mean, generally I would rather be in my PJs reading a book, but that’s true of most things in life, really. I do love getting a bit dressed up, and gathering together with a bunch of people who are all in some way related to or care for the bride or the groom. I love celebrating hard work, and love is hard work, sometimes. I love being present for a ceremony. I love the little rituals, and how each couple makes them their own. It’s all just nice.

Have a great weekend! See ya on the flip side.


Posted in Day to Day Life, I Heart Cape Breton, Leah's thoughts | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

a good day




Today’s been a kick-ass day. I was originally scheduled to work at the marina, but my co-worker was also scheduled, and I realized it wasn’t going to be busy enough to need both of us on. So I opted to take the day off. I suppose I could have stayed on the schedule, and swept and dusted and tried to make myself useful, but I really really really wanted to be in my home office in North Sydney and get some shit done, son!

So that’s what I did. I got up at 6 when Adam did and after he left for work, I did some yoga (I want to get back on that exercise train after stepping off at a random station and not getting back on), had breakfast, and cleaned the bathroom. (It needed it!) This whole time I was back and forth to my computer checking Facebook and emails, arranging a bit of this and that, and playing tunes.

Then I printed off some resumes and went off to the three printing shops in the area. It’s never too early, is my motto! Haha, I know, total keener over here. But even though I won’t be finished my program til next spring, I wanted to meet the folks that run the local businesses now and start relationships with them. As well, I wanted to get quotes for a re-run of my postcards and for stickers with the same design, and just generally poke around in neat spaces. I love small businesses and learning about how they are run (so far I’ve concluded that it’s blood, sweat and tears, and family members!). So that was cool!

(And I’ll admit that even though I’m pretty forward and good with people, I was a little nervous each time I pulled up at one of the businesses and gave myself a little pep talk in the car first.)

Because of the postcards I’ve had a couple of people get in touch with requests for design work, too, and I’ve got a couple of other clients from before the postcards, to keep me busy in my downtime. It all feels really good. I mean, it’s hard sometimes to motivate myself to do some work in the evenings, when I’d rather be vegging on the couch, and it’s hard other times to just relax and veg on the couch because I need some balance, when I want to be pleasing my clients, BUT… that’s all part of the game, I think. And it’s OK.

Oh and I mailed off my first orders from the Etsy shop! So that’s fun! These days when I do have a bit of spare time I’m re-reading Elise Blaha’s archives, mainly because she started out just like this, with a small Etsy shop that she ran from home. It’s super inspiring to me to read the day-to-day writing of someone who was doing the same thing I’m doing, knowing as I read it that her business grew, and she grew, and that is good, and normal. I’m excited for what’s to come!


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